San Miguel del Bala, a local Bolivian tourism operator, was honored this past spring with the 2011 “TO DO! Socially Responsible Tourism Award” from the German-based Studienkreis für Tourismus und Entwicklung (Institute for Tourism and Development).
This award was created in 1995 in response to the newfound global focus on conservation and ecotourism initiatives. Through the award, the organization encourages tourism enterprises to account for the needs of local populations and pushes local populations to participate in sustainable tourism practices on a broader scale.
The award ceremony took place at the International Tourism Exchange in Berlin and honored San Miguel del Bala for all of the ways in which it has helped to empower the local community.
In San Miguel del Bala, the local indigenous Tacana grew concerned after the formation of the Madidi National Park in 1995. This park may have been a great win for environmental conservationists, but it meant infringing on the Tacana’s ancient lands and placing their ancient hunting and agricultural traditions in jeopardy. In response to the Bolivian government’s national park policies, the local community created the beautiful jungle ecolodges of San Miguel del Bala as a means of celebrating the native Tacana culture and the amazing biodiversity of the Bolivian Amazon. San Miguel’s success story is a true testament to the benefits sustainable tourism can offer local communities.
San Miguel and the 35 families that own the lodge are directly benefiting from lodge employment and the increased health and educational benefits it has brought. Highlights from this project’s success include more than 25,000 hectares under improved environmental management; an increase in incomes of nearly 150 percent for the indigenous families; and business training for more than 100 local residents in subjects including, but not limited to, online marketing, tourism operations and management, customer service, and tourism best practices.
San Miguel del Bala is one of more than a half-dozen local Bolivian tourism operators to which the Bolivia Amazon Project, along with partner Solimar International, provides technical assistance. The Amazon project works with local communities to promote sustainable forest management and increased economic growth in specific areas of Bolivia.